WOW! A Chess Renaissance in Seattle!

Can you remember the last time you played in an open tournament reserved for players rated 2400+? Playing such strong events is like swimming in a pool full of sharks: some game losses are typically unavoidable, and it’s definitely not for the faint hearted! On the other hand, ambitious players seeking International Master or Grand Master norms have ample opportunities to succeed in their pursuits. When Xuhao He invited me to Seattle to play in his December event (Dec 26-30) called WOW, or Winter of Washington, I accepted his offer immediately. I knew it was going to be a great experience! Xuhao is one of the founders of the Pacific Northwest Chess Club (PNWCC), which opened its doors to the chess fans in 2018. PNWCC was founded on a premise of being an alternative to the old Seattle Chess Club. The founders were committed to provide better playing conditions and a nicer venue for the local players. Before the PNWCC opened, only one Grand Master had played in Seattle in the previous decade! Since 2018, due to the Club’s efforts, more than 30 Grand Masters have visited Seattle and enjoyed playing at the PNWCC. Xuhao offers quite generous conditions to all the Grand Masters he invites. Every invited player gets a royal treatment and truly feels welcome. Here’s a look back at my time in Seattle… Dec. 25 After spending a fabulous Christmas Eve with the family, I was in high spirits and excited to fly to Seattle. The flight though was a bit rocky. The flight attendant said something like “the weather is not very suitable for flying, so we expect lots of turbulence.” A minute later, she said “say goodbye to the ones you love, we are ready to take off.” Gulp. As it turned out, just a few days earlier, I was watching Lost, the TV series from the early 2000s. Good thing, I thought to myself, because I’m fully equipped with the knowledge for surviving the airplane crash. Some 4 hours later, we successfully landed. Whew! After arriving to the hotel, I found Xuhao was already there to meet the players. Since every restaurant and grocery store was closed on Christmas, Xuhao ordered pizza for everyone who arrived early. Later he took us on a tour to the playing venue, the Pacific Northwest Chess Club. I was very pleased to discover that it was only 3 minutes of relaxed walking away from the Marriott hotel where we stayed. Dec.26 Show time! The first round was scheduled at 7:00 PM. Many people wonder: what do Grand Masters do when they have the whole day before the game starts? Do they prepare and study chess openings? Not me! I slept in until 10 in the morning, got my breakfast, and then was studying programming for the rest of the day. The games have started at 7:00 PM sharp. Xuhao spoke briefly before the round start and thanked everybody for coming, with special thanks to the Super GM and our American rising star, Jeffery Xiong! I am sure the tournament wouldn’t attract as many promising young players if it wasn’t for his participation. International Arbiter William Broich talked about the rules very briefly as well. I liked it a lot: everything was concise and efficient. My first game was a nightmare though. Somehow, I managed to give up my knights for absolutely no reason and was forced to resign shortly to IM Bryce Tiglon. Not a great start. Dec. 27 Round 2 was a disappointment as well. Being up two pawns against a frequent participant of the US Women Championships, I got completely relaxed and found the only way not to win. Kudos to my opponent, Ashritha Eswaran, for a resilient defense. Despite such a slow start, I wasn’t too upset and managed to remain calm. I thought that I should at least enjoy my time here if the chess part isn’t working out as well as planned. I told my roommate, GM Andrey Gorovets, that I’m going to watch TV series Lost because I keep losing. I also started playing Plants vs. Zombies. These two things occupied the vast majority of my time between games for the rest of the tournament. The point was to get my mind off chess and do something mindless, fun, and relaxing. In round 3, I played a good game against Eugene Yanayt, who really loves chess and plays lots of tournaments nationwide. Having 50% after 3 games is better than 0.5 out of 2, so I got more cheerful and optimistic about life. Jumping ahead, here is a fun game between the two players scoring their first GM norms in the tournament!

[Event "?"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2019.12.27"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Li, Zhaozhi"]
[Black "Bortnyk, Mykola"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "E92"]
[WhiteElo "2421"]
[BlackElo "2485"]
[Annotator "Yaro"]
[PlyCount "226"]
[EventDate "2019.??.??"]

{This highly dramatic and entertaining game was played between the two
tournament lucky heroes who got their first GM norms!} 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3.
Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. Nf3 O-O 6. Be2 e5 7. Be3 Qe8 8. d5 Ng4 9. Bg5 h6 10. Bh4 f5
11. Nd2 a5 12. h3 Nf6 13. g4 Na6 14. Rg1 Nxe4 15. Ndxe4 fxe4 16. Nxe4 Nc5 17.
f3 Nxe4 18. fxe4 Rf4 19. Qc2 a4 20. O-O-O a3 21. b3 Bd7 22. Rdf1 g5 23. Bg3 Qe7
{[#]} 24. Bxf4 $2 ({White should have maintaned a fortress-like position and
equal chances after} 24. Rf3 Raf8 25. Re3) 24... exf4 25. Bf3 Qe5 26. Kd2 b5
27. Rc1 Qd4+ 28. Qd3 Qf2+ $6 ({Bortnyk misses a chance to open the b-file and
finish the game rather quickly:} 28... bxc4 29. bxc4 Qf2+ 30. Qe2 Qc5 31. Qd3
Rb8 32. Rb1 Rb2+ 33. Rxb2 axb2 $19) 29. Qe2 Qc5 30. Rge1 b4 31. Qd3 Be5 32. Ke2
Kf7 33. Kf1 Rh8 34. Kg2 Kf6 35. Red1 Be8 36. Qe2 Bg6 37. Qf2 Re8 38. Qxc5 dxc5
39. Rc2 Bd4 40. Re2 Ke5 41. Rd3 Rh8 42. Re1 Rh7 43. Kf1 h5 44. Kg2 h4 45. Kf1
Re7 46. Ke2 c6 47. dxc6 Be8 48. Red1 Bxc6 49. Rxd4 cxd4 50. Kd3 Rc7 51. Re1 Bb7
52. Re2 Ba6 53. Re1 Rc5 54. Re2 Bc8 55. Re1 Be6 56. Re2 Rc8 57. Re1 Rd8 58. Re2
Bf7 59. Re1 Bg6 60. Re2 Kd6 {[#]} 61. Kxd4 {Li demostrates a lot of ambitions
and fighting spirit. An old seasoned player like me would have prefered simple
rook moves on e2 and e1 squares, maintaining an impenetrable fortress.} Ke6+
62. Kc5 Rd3 63. Rf2 Ke5 64. Kxb4 Bxe4 65. Bxe4 Kxe4 66. c5 Ke3 67. c6 $2 {[#]}
(67. Rf1 {was much more accurate. It looks like the game is heading to a draw
after both sides keep pushing their passed pawns.}) 67... Kxf2 $3 {Wow,
Bortnyk! I couldn't believe such thing is possible... Black allows White to
promote the c-pawn but White's newly crowned queen won't be able to fight
effectively against the Black's f- and h-pawns!} 68. c7 Rxh3 69. c8=Q Re3 $2 (
69... f3 70. Qc2+ Kg1 71. Qc1+ Kg2 72. Qc6 Rg3 {was winning easily}) 70. Qc5 h3
71. Qxg5 Re4+ 72. Kxa3 h2 73. Qc5+ Re3 74. Qc1 Kg2 75. Qc2+ Kg3 76. Qd1 f3 77.
g5 {[#]} Re6 $4 {Squanders all the previous efforts and the brilliant tactics
on 67th move.} (77... Kg2 78. Qc1 f2 79. Qxe3 h1=Q 80. Qe4+ Kg1 81. Qd4 Qg2 82.
Ka4 Qxg5 83. b4 Qf5 $19) 78. Qf1 Rg6 79. Kb4 Rxg5 80. a4 Rh5 81. Qh1 f2 82. a5
Rh6 83. Kc5 Re6 84. Qf1 Re5+ 85. Kb6 Re1 86. Qd3+ Kg2 87. Qg6+ Kf1 88. Qh5 Re6+
89. Kb7 Ke1 90. Qh4 Re3 91. b4 Kd1 92. Qh5+ Re2 93. Qh3 Ke1 94. Qc3+ Kd1 95.
Qa1+ Kd2 96. a6 Re7+ 97. Kb8 Re8+ 98. Kc7 Ke2 99. Qa2+ Kf1 100. Qc4+ {[#]} Re2
$2 (100... Ke1 $11) 101. Qh4 Rc2+ 102. Kb6 Rb2 {[#]} 103. b5 $4 ({Li missed a
chance to win!} 103. a7 $1 Ra2 104. Qxh2 $18) 103... Rxb5+ 104. Kxb5 Kg1 105.
Qg3+ Kh1 106. Qf3+ Kg1 107. Qg4+ Kh1 108. Qe2 Kg1 109. Qg4+ Kh1 110. Qf3+ Kg1
111. a7 f1=Q+ 112. Qxf1+ Kxf1 113. a8=Q Kg1 {Kudos to both players on a great
tournament result and for playing such a wonderful fighting game. I hope that
the tournament organizer, Xuhao He, continues doing a great job on attracting
promising young players and the GMs to Seattle and promoting chess on the West
coast!} 1/2-1/2

Dec. 28 The morning game against FM Costin Cozianu turned out to be a breeze and only lasted about 2 hours. I surprised him with my opening choice and then he made a costly blunder. In round 5, I played GM Zhou Jianchao with Black and was keeping him under pressure for 5 hours. At the end, he managed to survive after my small inaccuracy. Truly, to beat a strong GM, you need to play an almost perfect game! The leaderboard after 5 rounds looked like this: GM Jeffery Xiong, IM Zhaozhi Li, and IM Joshua Sheng were sharing 1st place with 4 points. Dec. 29 My best chess day of 2019. In one day, I beat GMs Andrey Gorovets with White and Jeffery Xiong with Black! Time to join the leaderboard!

[Event "?"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2019.12.29"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Xiong, Jeffery"]
[Black "Zherebukh, Yaro"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "B80"]
[WhiteElo "2712"]
[BlackElo "2615"]
[Annotator "Yaro"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "r4rk1/1bq1bpp1/p1nppn1p/1p3P2/4P1P1/1PN1B2P/P1PQN1B1/R4RK1 b - - 0 18"]
[PlyCount "25"]
[EventDate "2019.??.??"]

{[#] Last time I played Jeffery, I lost with Black in Petroff Defense, so this
time I opted for a much sharper weapon-Najdorf variation in Sicilian Defense.
After a very slow start-only 0.5 points in the first two games, I was
determined to win as many games no matter what.} 18... Rac8 $6 {Inaccurate
move, which allows White to come up with a significant counterplay.} ({Black
would have a much better position after simple} 18... Ne5 {and now the same
sacrifice doesn't work:} 19. Bxh6 gxh6 20. Qxh6 Nh7 21. f6 Nxf6 22. Rxf6 Bxf6
23. Qxf6 Qd8 $1) 19. Bxh6 $1 gxh6 20. Qxh6 Qd8 $3 {After 25 minutes of deep
thinking, I have finally came up with an excellent idea, allowing me to fight
for more than a draw. The point is to give up an extra material, stop White's
attack, and gain the initiative.} ({Jeffery was hoping for a draw after} 20...
Nh7 21. f6 Nxf6 22. Qg5+ Kh7 23. Qh4+ Kg7 24. Qg5+) 21. fxe6 (21. g5 {[#]} Ng4
$3 {The idea behind 20...Qd8.} 22. hxg4 Bxg5 23. Qh5 Be3+ 24. Kh1 Qg5 {Despite
being a pawn down, Black is crusing through the game because of the
dark-square domination and much more active pieces.}) 21... fxe6 22. g5 Ne5 23.
g6 $2 {Now, I win after a series of precise moves.} ({Jeffery should have
resorted to a passive defense after} 23. gxf6 Bxf6 24. Qe3 Qe7) 23... Qd7 24.
Nf4 (24. g7 Rfe8 25. Qh8+ Kf7 26. Qh7 Rg8 $19) 24... Bd8 25. g7 (25. Nxe6 Bb6+
26. Kh1 Qxe6 27. Rxf6 Qe7 $1) (25. Nh5 Bb6+ 26. Kh1 Nxh5) 25... Qxg7 26. Qxg7+
Kxg7 27. Nxe6+ Kf7 28. Nxf8 Rxc3 29. Nh7 Ke6 (29... Kg7 30. Nxf6 Bxf6 31. Rf2
Re3 32. Rd1 Be7 33. Kf1 Bxe4 34. Bxe4 Rxe4 35. Re2) 30. Nxf6 Bxf6 {Black's
position is winning primarily because of the dark-square domination and piece
activity. The bishop on g2 is especially passive. White resigned in 15 moves.}

Dec.30 An easy day in the office: I secure a clear 1st place after beating IM Joshua Sheng in 22 moves and making a 13-move draw against IM Mykola Bortnyk, who was happy with a draw as it secured him a GM norm! Unfortunately for Joshua, he was a half-point short of getting a GM norm after losing to GM Jeffery Xiong in the last round. Two norm seekers got their norms after the last games. IM Zhaozhi Li, also (like me) living in Chicago, got his first GM norm after drawing GM Zhou Jianchao. Jack Qijie Zhu got an IM norm after beating IM Bryce Tiglon. Everybody was happy with the playing conditions, the venue, and the hotel proximity. I can’t remember any other open tournament running so smoothly without a single complaint or misunderstanding. One of the most enjoyable part for myself: Xuhao provided free snacks for the tournament participants after each round. The tournament also had a non-quitting “Ignacio rule”, so there were no withdrawals. I think it greatly contributed to the promotion of the fighting spirit! At the end, there was pizza, beer, and a blitz tournament!   Organizers say that playing in PNWCC tournaments can bring good luck to the participants. It may be true. Cases-in-point include GM Evgeny Shtembuliak becoming World Junior Champion, IM Xu Yi getting a GM title, IM Carissa Yip got a huge rating boost… and some of the titled players even got internships and full-time jobs at Microsoft! Future PNWCC events I have no doubt the future tournaments hosted by the Pacific Northwest Chess Club (PWNCC) will attract lots of GMs and ambitious players! PWNCC has already scheduled 3 big events for 2020. Check them out at and you are welcome to register at Join the PWNCC events and feel a part of the Chess Renaissance in Seattle!

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